Thank you for visiting polygraphquestions.com. Keep reading for examples of common polygraph questions and a description of the polygraph process.
Control questions or comparison questions
Control questions are used by a polygrapher to establish a benchmark by which the answers to the substantive and specific relevant polygraph questions are graded. Once the data indicating the test taker’s response tendencies has been collected the polygrapher has a method for grading other responses. This can be done by comparing a respondent’s response to the control question with his response to the actual question.
Most probably assume the control questions simply gauge the respondent's honest reaction to obvious questions such as “Are the lights on in the room right now?” or “Is your name William Smith?” These are not control questions.
Control questions are designed to illicit a dishonest response from the participant. They are designed to provide the polygrapher with an example of the participant’s body reaction when he is telling a lie.
The participant may be asked a question such as, “Did you ever lie to someone who was in a position of authority over you?” It is assumed by the polygrapher that all participants have lied to an authority figure and the denial response to the question will likely be a lie as well. In this case, the respondent’s dishonest response may be used to benchmark his body’s reaction such as blood pressure, heart rate and breathing patterns when telling an obvious lie. Future response can be compared to this one in an attempt to gauge truthfulness.
This methodology is especially controversial as the polygrapher must channel the participant into giving a dishonest response. He needs the test taker to be dishonest in order to collect the necessary data to benchmark the reaction of a respondent when telling a lie. In order to properly channel the participant the examiner may warn him that his affirmative response to the control could serve as an indicator of his bad character thus resulting in negative outcome. For example, the examiner may make a statement to a job applicant to the effect that if he answers in the affirmative he will not be hired. In this way he forces the respondent to lie.
A participant who answers the control honestly may fail to provide a proper benchmark for future questioning. This thwarts the system as an honest answer to the negative control deprives the examiner of the necessary data showing the state of the respondent when telling a lie. When the honest repondant honestly answers the control he feels less stress. Thus it is more likely that his honest responses to the other non-control questions could appear dishonest or inconclusive.
Control questions are not graded on the final version of the test.
Possible control questions are as follows.
Do you ever take credit for something you didn’t do?
Have you tricked or deceived a member of your family?
Did you ever betrayed a person to whom you gave your word?
Have you ever committed an act that brought your integrity into question?
Have you ever cheated on a test?
Have you ever thought about committing an act of violence?
Relevant questions are designed to entice information from the respondent upon which he will be graded. The may be customized to the interviewing agency's specific concerns. The test results are jeopardized should the exam taker fail to properly answer the question or appear to be lying.
For example the relevant questions of a job employment screening for a job involving the public trust might be as follows.
Did you ever use an illegal drug?
Have you ever stolen more than $400 dollars?
Did you truthfully answer the items on your job application?
Have you intentionally withheld any information required by the job application?
Notice the difference between the relevant questions and the control questions. Instead of asking if the applicant has ever stolen anything the relevant question seeks to put a dollar value on the amount stolen. The polygraph would likely assume all participants have stolen something and would only include the generic question about theft as a control method to tell when the participant is lying. The relevant question is more specific and has been designed to specifically evaluate the test taker’s history.
A lie detector test about a specific matter under review such as a theft will contain a different type of relevant question. These questions will specifically address the matter at hand. For example consider the following relevant questions that might be asked regarding the theft of cash from a cash register.
Did you take the money?
Did you see someone take the money?
Do you know who took the money?
Do you suspect someone of taking the money?
These questions may be designed to set up a post test interview during which the test taker may be asked to provide additional details based on his answers and corresponding test results.
Non-relevant questions may appear to be positive control questions. For example consider the earlier example of the question “Is your name William Smith?” This question appears designed to calibrate a positive response but in fact may have little to no relevance to the test and is simply used as filler. These non-relevant questions may function as fillers between the control questions and the relevant questions. They transition the test taker from his nervous state while likely lying to the control questions and hopefully reset his mental and physical condition so he may be adequately measured during the relevant questions.
Non-relevant questions should not be confused for control questions. These questions may appear designed for control purposes but are potentially little more than buffers.
Here are some examples of non-relevant questions.
Are the lights on in this room?
Are you currently in the state of New York?
Did the Yankees win the World Series?
The sacrifice question takes the place of the first relevant question asked to the test taker. It isn’t scored by the test as it assumes the test taker’s response could be abnormal since it is the first question. An example sacrifice question would be “Do you intend to answer the questions in this examination honestly?” The sacrifice questions does not receive a grade.
Phases of polygraph tests
The polygraph test comprises three different phases. In the first pre-test phase the examiner will take on the good cop role and build a relationship with test taker. He may use information from this interview to compose control questions and will also carefully note any admissions made by the test taker. He may explain how the process works. This builds confidence in the examiner’s ability to detect lies and convinces the participant of its ability to detect changes in the body over which the test taker allegedly has no control such as heart rate changes, breathing pattern changes and sweat emission. The examiner may also conduct what is known as a stim test that will likely be presented to the participant as an acquaintance or demonstration test. This test involves the examiner supposedly detecting a dishonest response from the test taker. The test is rigged in favor of the examiner and designed to convince the test taker of the examiner’s ability to detect lies and the test taker’s inability to prevent his body from reacting when he tells a lie. The questioner may also review the questions of the upcoming test with the test taker.
During the second, or test phase, the test taker subjects himself to the exam as previously described.
As part of the final or third phase the examiner may attempt to elicit a confession or retrieve additional information from the participant by conducting a post test interrogation. The polygrapher uses this opportunity to explore the participant's answers and ask open-ended probes to take in even more context.
How the bad guys beat the test
A dishonest test taker might attempt to trick the test by recognizing the control questions and elevating his body’s response when they are asked. He might perform mental and physical actions to stimulate reaction. Mental stimulus such as thinking exciting thoughts or physical stimulus like biting the tongue may serve this purpose.
How the good guys fail the test
Honest individuals could potentially appear less-than-truthful by honestly answering the controls without showing distress or consternation at the nature of the question or the answer. This provides a narrowed margin of error for their responses to the relevant questions. A good polygrapher should hopefully recognize this tendency and understand that the benchmarked bar resulting from the control response is much higher for honest test takers. An honest person should stick out like a sore thumb when he honestly answers the controls. Unfortunately, it appears as if the test is designed under the assumption a test taker will lie when answering the control.
For additional informaiton about the test please review the postings on this site's blog.